Politics & Policy

Impromptus

When Bush is ticked. The incredible question-asker. An American in his heart. And more

Personal emotion is not a desirable thing in a president, we’re told, and I agree — to an extent. But I think that the personal emotion that exists within President Bush is a fine thing. A helpful thing. On Sept. 11, he was filled with important, enduring emotions.

I was struck by something in one of the papers the other day. It had to do with those Americans downed in Colombia. Two people were immediately executed. Said Bush, to Telemundo, “They had shots to the back of the head that show they were assassinated in cold blood.”

Bush is going to get ’em. Oh, yes he is. And that’s not a bad thing.

I quote the Jerusalem Post: “Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, has said that the world would be a safer place if the international community would take the same measures against Israel as it is taking now against Iraq. Mr. al-Faisal told the BBC [they must love him] that had the international community used the same measures against Israel for its ‘50 years of aggression against the Palestinians,’ [everything would be hunky-dory].”

Folks, all I can think to do is joke: Aren’t you surprised that the Saudi foreign minister is a royal, and not some bloke from a diplomatic institute or something? And his name — Saud — is so similar to that of the country!

Life is full of coincidences.

I’m not sure that the Saudi foreign minister is worse than Helen Thomas, though. Haven’t talked about this dear lady lately, have I? Well, she said the other day that Bush “has failed to give a reason to attack Iraq.” Any attack on that country, said the “dean of the White House press corps,” would “legitimize Pearl Harbor.” You see? A sneak attack (although, don’t they know we’re coming?)! And unprovoked! Infamous!

Thomas added that she had seen many things in her time, but “I never saw a country fall under the spell of 19th-century imperialism” like the United States under Bush now has. And most of those “seeking the killing fields, seeking the war, have never been on the battlefield.”

Yup, that’s Bush, Cheney, Condi, Colin, Rummy, Blair, Aznar, Havel, and all the rest: “seeking the killing fields.”

This is one of the most respected women in America, mind you, honored everywhere.

Oh, by the way: “Killing fields” is an allusion to the Cambodian holocaust, in which the Communists wiped out a quarter to a third of the population. We should have intervened there, too.

In New York, the girl who turns her back on the flag has received a lot of attention. I’m talking about Toni Smith, captain of the women’s basketball team at Manhattanville College. When the national anthem is played, she turns her back on the flag, causing right-thinkers to swoon over her. She is applauded for “taking a stand,” “sticking by her principles,” and so on.

Here’s how she talks: “For some time now, the inequalities that are embedded in the American system have bothered me. As they are becoming progressively worse, and it is clear that the government’s priorities are not on bettering the quality of life for all of its people, but rather on expanding its own power, I can no longer, in good conscience, salute the flag. The war America will soon be entering in has reinforced my beliefs.”

She also likes this old chestnut: “It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the military has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.” (I used to see that on bumper stickers in Ann Arbor and Cambridge.)

The president of the college is bursting with pride, telling the New York Post, “I hugged her and told her I supported her and that I would protect her right to express her views.”

Well, id’n that sweet. But wouldn’t it be a greater service to this child — and she’s apparently still a child, mentally — to teach her about America, to tell her about its place among nations, so she won’t be babbling stupidities like the “bake sale” thing? Instead of patting her on the back and telling her how wonderful she is, couldn’t the school give her a sense of history, of perspective — of reality?

Joe Lieberman is the least noxious of the Democratic presidential candidates. But a) that’s not saying much and b) he’s trying his best to fit in.

Check out ol’ Joe (no, not Stalin): “By pulling out of the Kyoto global-warming treaty, arms-control treaties, and other international pacts, and by issuing an unnecessary and divisive policy of military preemption, George W. Bush has separated us from most of the rest of the world and weakened our alliances . . . ”

Do a little analysis. So, Sen. Lieberman thinks the United States should enter the Kyoto treaty? Didn’t the Senate vote against it unanimously? How odd. Does Lieberman think that Bush blundered in giving Moscow notice and withdrawing from the ABM treaty — antiquated and signed with the Soviet Union, which no longer exists? Odd again. And the doctrine of military preemption is “divisive” — meaning . . . that not everyone supports it? That it divides supporters from opponents? Of what important doctrine or idea is this not true? And does the senator think that the United States should wait until Saddam Hussein strikes before disarming him?

The man is a dunce. Or trying to act like one, to please Democratic audiences. One or the other.

Listen to Gov. Gary Locke (D., Wash.), talking about the new governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm (also a Democrat): “She’s a star, she’s incredible. She speaks up, and she has incredibly good questions. She asked a question today of the president. People are very impressed with her.”

You know how some white liberals (and others) condescend to black people by describing them as “articulate” — long a kind of codeword? That’s what I thought of in reading Locke’s remarks: “She speaks up, and she has incredibly good questions!”

Between Gary Locke and John Locke, there’s a world of difference, sports fans.

I enjoyed this analysis from the Daily Telegraph — and I hope it’s true.

By antagonizing eastern Europe with his indelicately chosen threats, Mr. Chirac has done more to create a “new” Europe than Donald Rumsfeld ever dared to hope. . . . From the Baltic to the Black Sea, there has been a unanimity of government support and sympathy for America combined with burgeoning antagonism towards France and Germany. Judging by the reaction, Mr. Chirac’s outburst achieved precisely the opposite of what was intended, giving the new Europe a sense of common identity and purpose. . . .

Eastern European admiration for America is firmly seated in gratitude for the continuous covert and overt support for political dissent during the years of Soviet domination. “Even under Soviet occupation, we trusted America rather than Europe,” says Marius Laurinavicius, deputy editor of Lithuania’s largest daily newspaper. “Unlike Europe, Washington never recognized the Soviet occupation of Lithuania.”

From the Telegraph’s mouth to God’s ear.

As some Impromptus readers know, I am music critic for the New York Sun, here in the city. I give you a link for a review from Monday — go here — because this piece goes beyond the musical to the political and historical. To a realm that we often visit in this column.

Vladimir Ashkenazy, the Russian pianist and conductor, gave a concert with the Czech Philharmonic, of which he is music director. It was an unusual program, consisting of film music that Prokofiev and Shostakovich were forced to write, and music that Shostakovich wrote of his own free will. Ashkenazy wanted to teach a kind of lesson.

In a little opening speech, the conductor told a joke, which I’d like to share with you all. As he explained, it was a joke frequently told in the USSR — but only very, very privately.

Karl Marx comes back to life. He surveys Russia, Eastern Europe, and so on, noting the “economic, intellectual, and spiritual bankruptcy” (Ashkenazy’s words). And he says, “I’m so sorry. It was just an idea!”

Anyway . . .

Want to know something about Saudi Arabia, or are you Saudi-ed out? If the former, try Dore Gold’s book, Hatred’s Kingdom. Chilling. Horrifying.

Good thing Israel’s opponents can dismiss it as Zionist propaganda.

Gold’s book, I’m sure, will never win Britain’s Book of the Year, or Britain’s anything: but Michael Moore’s Stupid White Men did. Are you surprised? I am, sort of — but I suppose I shouldn’t be.

Al Sharpton is not a Stupid White Man. He is another kind of man. I’ve been writing lately about the Rev’s considerable charm, and how this is a shame, given the poison that he represents in our politics. I almost feel guilty for quoting his mots — but I’ll go ahead, damn me.

He was asked the other day whether Carol Moseley-Braun would hurt his black vote. He quipped, “I’m worried about whether Joe Lieberman is going to hurt my Jewish vote.”

What makes him stand out in the Democratic field is — not his demagoguery, for the others have that too, in abundance — but his charm. The others are totally charmless (though Lieberman has a smidgeon of it); Sharpton has loads of it.

Pity.

Someone sent me the following witticism: “Going to war without the French is like going deer hunting without your accordion.” This put me in mind of the Steinemite “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” Same species of locution.

Jay Leno’s politics are very much on the left — as demonstrated on the late Politically Incorrect — but that didn’t stop him from saying this, for which I love him: “According to the New York Times, a group of liberal venture capitalists are getting set to start their own liberal radio network to counter conservative radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh. They feel the liberal viewpoint is not being heard — except on TV, in the movies, by comedians, on the radio . . . Other than that, the message isn’t getting out.”

Bravo lui, as they say in Italy.

Feel like a little language? Several readers have written me saying, “Will you do something about ‘I could care less’? People say it when they mean ‘I couldn’t care less.’ President Bush said it the other day, and it embarrassed me — sort of like ‘nuke-ular.’”

Sorry, but I can be of no help here. People simply started to say “I could care less” to mean the reverse, and it stuck — and it’s here. It used to irritate me, but I have now accepted it as an idiosyncrasy of the language (which is full of them). It’s a solecism for our times.

Years ago, I worked with a girl who was one of the brightest people I have ever known. She said “I could care less” all the time. (Me: “Do you know what I think of your Bill and Hillary Clinton?” Her: “I could care less.”) The fact that plenty of bright people say this should provide one clue that this is an expression whose meaning is clear and whose peculiar usage we should swallow. We are not to be literalist about it.

You know what’s weird, in our language? To be “rid” of something is to be without something. But a neighborhood that is “crime-ridden” is full of crime, not blessedly devoid of it. A room is ridden with mice — wouldn’t it be nice to be rid of the mice?

Weird.

Let’s have a little mail — related to goings-on in recent Impromptus:

“I read your mention of the nun in Kenya and what the person next to her said about wishing he had been on the plane that exploded into the WTC towers. Well, I am now living in Madrid, Spain, for a semester and have to say that this sentiment is rampant. This is my fourth time being in Europe, and I don’t remember being accosted so often for being an American.

“In Portugal I was walking down the street and a person in a stopped car proceeded to yell at me, calling me and my friends (obvious Americans) ‘bitches’ while giving us the finger — as we were walking by a sign that said ‘Uncle Sam Wants Your Oil’ and a huge billboard that said ‘The Great American Disaster.’ I guess we should have aspired to be like the Portuguese!

“Then there are the repeated anti-Bush and anti-Republican comments made in some of my classes. Gets old hearing people ask, ‘So who voted for Bush anyway?’ It’s like I have three eyes when I say I did.

“Then I love it when the other American students pander to the European students and try to explain why the U.S. is so messed up and wrong all the time. Never seen such a**-kissing in my life.”

I just loved that last line (in part because it reminded me of my “Love on the Arno”). Loved it. That’s exactly what liberal American students do in Europe — it’s their specialty. Buys them respect and slack. (Plus they believe it.)

“Dear Jay: I am an American living in Warsaw. In your recent article, you mentioned that some Americans would like to pass off as Canadians.

“My wife and I were in Berlin this last weekend, and were not ashamed or frightened of being American. We were at an Internet café checking our e-mails and speaking ‘American.’ The fellow at the computer next to ours leaned over and asked (with a heavy German accent, but excellent English) whether we were American. We said yes, wondering what was going to come next. He responded: ‘I just became a United States citizen a couple of months ago — I am back here visiting family.’ His pride in being an American citizen was obvious.”

“Hey, Jay: I spent last week on vacation in beautiful Rio de Janeiro. The only television channel broadcast in my hotel was CNN World. And I thought plain ol’ CNN reporting was tainted! No Iraq report could go for more than two minutes without mentioning the possibility of the United States taking ‘unilateral action.’ Arrgghh. If ‘our’ news abroad is so biased against intervention, it’s no wonder the rest of the world looks at us so skeptically.

“On a much more upbeat note, however, I did find myself in a bar with a Scotsman who is a member of Her Majesty’s Special Forces. He had recently returned from Afghanistan and was preparing to leave for Baghdad. He said he hadn’t seen his wife and kids for six months. I wished him the best of luck and said, ‘We’re with you.’ He got a very serious look on his face and said, ‘No, WE are with YOU.’ Spine-tingling!”

Finally, here is a letter from heaven. From a Canadian. You will adore it.

“My wife and I will be renting a house in France next September. Yes, I know, I feel like I should make some sort of effort to boycott the French, but using that logic, given the attitude of the Canadian government, I would have to boycott Canada as well. By the way, the people from whom we are renting are English, so I don’t feel that bad. Anyway, I’ll make sure to tell those who ask that, although I’m a Canadian, I’m an American at heart. Screw ’em.”

Bless ’im.

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